Last updated: February 2015
Workplace discrimination is:Unfair treatment or harassment because of your race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, or disabilityBeing denied a reasonable accommodation that you need because of your religion or disabilityPunishment for complaining about job discrimination or helping a discrimination investigationIf you are not a member of a "protected class," you will usually not be able make a claim for employment discrimination.Click on words that appear like 'this' to learn what these words mean.What is employment discrimination? There are different types of employment discrimination. Some examples are:Unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex, age, nation origin, or disabilityHarassment by people you work with because of your race, color, religion, sex, age, nation origin, or disabilityBeing denied a reasonable accommodation that you need to practice your religion Being denied a reasonable accommodation that you need because of your disabilityRetaliation for complaining about job discrimination or assisting in a discrimination investigationHow do I show I was discriminated against? There are a few ways you can prove employment discrimination. The following two ways are used most often.First, you can prove discrimination by direct evidence, like a statement by your supervisor that she doesn’t like people of your race. This kind of evidence is rare.Second, you can prove discrimination by showing that:You are a member of at least one protected class; You were qualified for the job you applied for and were ready to start performing the job or you were qualified for the job you were doing and you were adequetely performing that job;The employer did not hire you, did not promote you, or fired you; and, Someone outside your protected class was not fired under similar circumstances, and/or someone outside your protected class WAS hired in your place.Am I a member of a protected class? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects the following classes:Age (over 40)DisabilityGenetic informationNational originPregnancyRace/ColorReligionSexSexual harassmentThe Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) protects the same classes as the EEOC, and additionally, the following groups:Order of protection statusMarital statusSexual orientation (including gender-related identity)Unfavorable military dischargeDisability (physical and mental)Arrest record (or criminal history record ordered expunged, sealed or impounded)Citizenship status (born or naturalized U.S. citizen, U.S. national or documented immigrant)Language (any language use not related to job duties)Pregnancy (including child birth or related medical conditions) The Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR) protects the following groups:RaceColorNational originAncestryReligionDisabilityAge (over 40)SexSexual orientationGender identityParental statusMarital statusMilitary discharge statusSource of incomeWhat if I am not a member of a protected class? If you are not a member of a "protected class," you will usually not be able make a claim for employment discrimination.If you are disabled and believe that you were discriminated against because of your disability, you will be able to claim employment discrimination under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you are over the age of 40 and believe that you were discriminated against because of your age, you might have a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). For the ADA and the ADEA you must show that your disability or your age was one of the reasons why you were not hired, not promoted, or fired.Are there employers who can discriminate? No.However, employers are able to use a number of factors in their hiring, promoting, and firing decisions. These factors include education, skill level, and past job performance. An employer can make employment decisions based on these and similar factors.Does it matter when I was discriminated against in the employment process? No, it does not matter when during the employment process you were discriminated against. However, there are time limits within which you must file a discrimination claim. Whether you were discriminated against during the hiring process, during your time at work or when your employer fired you, you can bring a claim for employment discrimination. However, your employer never has to provide you with a reason for their employment decisions. An employer does not need to explain their reasons for not hiring you, for not changing your employment situation when they change other employees, or their reasons for firing you.Does it matter how long I have worked at the job? It does not matter how long you have worked for your employer. However, by having worked for an employer longer, you will be able to better document examples of discrimination. What should I do if I think that I was discriminated against? The best thing to do is to talk to your employer about any questions you have about employment decisions that were made. Employers cannot fire you or demote you because you talked with them. Most of the time, employers will be willing to sit down with you and explain decisions that have been made.If your employer is not willing to talk to you or does not give you enough information, you can bring a legal claim against them at one of the following places:Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR)City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR)At these places, you will make a claim of discrimination. You will then discuss the claim with a mediator and your employer.If your company is part of the federal government or you are filing a federal discrimination claim, then you must file your claim with the EEOC. The EEOC is a governmental organization that was developed to help settle disputes between employees and employers. The EEOC will either help you settle the dispute with your employer or tell you that you need to file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer in court.If the discrimination took place in Illinois and the employer has more than 15 employees, you may go to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) to file a charge of discrimination.If the discrimination took place in Chicago and your employer has less than 15 employees, you should file a claim with the CCHR. You may go to CCHR with claims against employers, businesses, or housing providers of all sizes. You must first go to one of these three agencies to "exhaust your administrative remedies" before you can bring a court lawsuit for employment discrimination.If you file a charge of discriminatin, that charge will be forwarded to your employer.If you need to file a discrimination lawsuit in court, make sure that you fill out all the court paperwork fully and provide specific examples and dates of when you were discriminated against. It is very important to be very detailed in your decription to show that the employment decisions of your employer were discriminatory. If you feel comfortable, you can take your case to court by yourself. However, if you feel confused by the court process, you might need to talk with an attorney. Many lawyers are well trained to deal with employment and discrimination issues. A legal aid organization may be able to help you if you cannot afford a private lawyer. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is a not-for-profit organization that reviews possible discrimination cases and places strong cases with attorneys who will represent the plaintiff for free. The Lawyers’ Committee can be reached at (312) 630-9744.What will the employer do if I claim discrimination? After you establish that you have at least a prima facie case of discrimination, the "burden of proof" shifts to the employer to explain why it fired you. Your employer must establish that it had a reason for their decision that was not discriminatory. Most employers will state some reason for why they fired you. The employer may say that you were not performing well enough in your job. Any reason the employer gives will be considered a good reason because an employer can make any decision that they see fit for their company.What if my employer provides a reason for its employment decision? If your employer provides a reason for their employment decision you will need to produce evidence to show that the employer’s reason is false or was not the real reason for its decision. Proving that the employer’s explanation was a lie or not the true reason for its action can be difficult.How long do I have to file a claim for discrimination? You have 300 days from the last discriminatory action to file a charge with the EEOC. You have 180 days from the time you were last discriminated against to file a claim with the IDHR and the CCHR. You can file a claim for many separate instances of discrimination at once, in one claim, as long as you file the claim within the required number of days from the last discriminatory action. The boss who fired me is of a different race from me. Does that mean I was discriminated against? No. You would have to be able to prove that your race was the reason you were fired, not just that you were a different race from your boss.I am the only person of my ethnic group at my workplace and I was fired. Does that mean that it is a discriminatory workplace? Not necessarily. Statistics alone, like how many employees are male versus female, or white versus other minorities, might be helpful evidence to you, but it will not prove discrimination without any other proof of discriminatory actions.Determine where to file your claim Filing a federal discrimination claim: If your company is part of the federal government or you are filing a federal discrimination claim, you must file with the EEOC. You have 300 days from the last discriminatory action to file a claim with the EEOC.Filing a claim in Chicago: File your claim with the CCHR if you employer has less than 15 employees and the discriminatory action took place in Chicago. You have 180 days from the last discriminatory action to file a claim with the CCHR.Filing a claim in Illinois (but not your employer is not in Chicago):File your claim with the IDHR if the discriminatory action happened in Illinois, but not in Chicago. You have 180 days from the last discriminatory action to file a claim with the IDHR.Step-by-Step for Filing with the EEOC 1. Contact your local equal employment opportunity counselor within 300 days of the first act of discrimination:If you think that you have experienced employment discrimination in hiring, promotions, or firing, you must file a charge with the EEOC. Go to the EEOC website to find your nearest field office.2. The EEOC will start an investigation:The EEOC will investigate the allegations in the charge. The EEOC will investigate the charge of discrimination to determine if there is “reasonable cause” to believe that you were discriminated against. If reasonable cause exists, the EEOC may bring a lawsuit against the employer on your behalf. You and your employer also have the option of mediation. More information can be found in question 3. If no “reasonable cause” exists, the EEOC will dismiss the discrimination charge. The EEOC will tell both parties that the charge is dismissed. If the EEOC dismisses your charge, you will receive a “right to sue” letter to bring a law suit against your employer. Once you receive the “right to sue” letter, you have 90 days to bring a lawsuit against your employer. You may not sue until you receive a "right to sue" letter from the EEOC.3. You will be asked if you want to participate in either counseling or alternative dispute resolution (ADR):Mediation will be offered to try and settle the dispute between you and your employer. Mediation is a much faster and a less formal way to settle the dispute. An average EEOC mediation is resolved in less than three months and the actual mediation may take only a few hours.Go to the EEOC's website for more information on mediation.Step-by-Step for Filing with the IDHR 1. File your charge within 180 days of the act of discrimination:If you think that you have experienced employment discrimination in hiring, promotions, or firing, you must first speak with a member of the IDHR and file a charge with them at your local IDHR office. The charge can be done in writing or in person. When filing a charge, make sure that you give a complete and detailed description of the instance(s) of discrimination as well as the most recent date of discrimination.There are three IDHR offices where you can file a charge in person:100 W. Randolph Street10th FloorIntake UnitChicago, IL 60601(312) 814-6200222 South CollegeRoom 101Intake UnitSpringfield, IL 62704(217) 785-51002309 West Main StreetSuite 112Intake UnitMarion, IL 62959(618) 993-7463If you want to mail in your charge, send your charge to the IDHR location above that is nearest to you. You can find the IDHR Complaint Information Form in the "Forms" section of this Guide.2. Your charge will be served on your employer:The employer will have 60 days to respond to the charge.3. The IDHR will conduct an investigation:IDHR will investigate the allegations in the charge. The investigation will include collection of documents, and interviews with witnesses that might provide relevant information.Part of the investigation might also include a fact-finding conference, where you and your employer will be able to present facts and evidence. The investigator will question both you and your employer. You will have the opportunity to respond to your employer’s comments like you would in a trial setting.4. If the IDHR investigation finds substantial evidence of discrimination:After the investigation, a report is written describing whether or not there is “substantial evidence” of a violation of the Act. A finding of “substantial evidence” means that there is enough evidence for you to take the case before an administrative law judge at the HRC. If there is “substantial evidence” of discrimination, you can either start a civil suit against your employer or file a complaint with the IDHR.There is also the option of mediation. If you and your employer both agree to a mediation session, you and your employer will meet with an IDHR mediator at a confidential meeting. The goal of the mediation is to get to a settlement. However, if both you and your employer cannot agree to a settlement, you will move to an investigation. 5. If the IDHR investigation finds there is not substantial evidence of discrimination:If the IDHR finds there is not substantial evidence of discrimination it will dismiss your charge. You will be sent a “right to file a Request for Review” letter. Once you get this letter, you have 30 days to appeal your charge to the IHRA.Step-by-Step for Filing with the CCHR 1. File your charge within 180 days of the act of discrimination:If you think that you have experienced employment discrimination in hiring, promotions, or firing, file a charge with your local CCHR office. Your charge can be done in writing or in person. When filing a charge, make sure that you give a complete and detailed description of the instance(s) of discrimination and the most recent date of discrimination.You can file a CCHR charge in person at:740 North Sedgwick Street Suite 400Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 744-4111If you want to mail in your charge, send your charge to the location above. You can find the CCHR Complaint Information Form in the “Forms” section of this Guide. 2. Your charge will be served on your employer:The employer will have 28 days to respond to the charge.3. The CCHR will conduct an investigation:CCHR will investigate the allegations in your discrimination charge. The investigation will include collection of documents, and interviews with witnesses that might have helpful information about your discrimination charge. 4. If the CCHR investigation finds substantial evidence of discrimination:After the investigation, a written report is made describing whether or not there is “substantial evidence” of a violation of the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance or Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance. A finding of “substantial evidence” just means that there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to an administrative hearing. It does not mean that a discriminatory action was found. If the investigator finds that there is “substantial evidence” of discrimination, the case proceeds to the administrative hearing process. There is also the option of mediation. If you and your employer both agree to a mediation session, you and your employer will meet with an independent mediator at a private meeting. The goal of the mediation is to get to a settlement. However, if both you and your employer cannot agree to a settlement, the charge will move to an investigation. 5. If the CCHR Investigation finds there is not substantial evidence of discrimination:If the CCHR finds there is not substantial evidence of discrimination it will dismiss your charge. You may file and serve a request for review arguing that the dismissal was in error and the claim should be reinstated.
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